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605 LEAGUE SOFTBALL – Luna’s two-out hit allows Artesia to catch Cerritos for first place

Artesia sophomore pitcher Shelby Hile picked up her biggest win in her short high school career, defeating Cerritos High 4-3 this past Tuesday in a battle of the top two teams in the 605 League. Hile threw 123 pitches but earned her fourth victory in eight starts and helped the Lady Pioneers improve to 13-3 overall and 5-1 in league. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.



By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


All Natalie Luna wanted to do is simply see a pitch in her final at-bat against Cerritos High before swinging. At worse, the game featuring the top two teams in the new 605 League would have gone into extra innings.

But the senior shortstop for Artesia High didn’t want that, and neither did the Lady Pioneers as she deposited a one-strike pitch to left field, scoring junior third baseman Valerie Joaquin for the game-winner as Artesia rallied for a 4-3 victory this past Tuesday afternoon. Artesia (13-3 overall, 5-1 in league) avenged an earlier 7-6 loss to the Lady Dons and beat Cerritos for only the second time in at least 22 seasons with the other time coming on Mar. 24, 2016.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” Luna said. “I just try to find a way to calm myself down. All the noise in the back…you just have to tune it out and you have to stick with your mechanics. I know what I’m doing; I know I can hit the ball.”

“We were definitely looking forward to it,” said Artesia head coach Dayna Feenstra. “Right now, in the new league…the two teams that have the most competition. I wish we could play them five or six times a year. It’s just fun. I think it’s fun just because, not even the competition, but these girls have been playing with each other since they were six or seven years old over at the park. So, it just brings another level of intensity that there’s no other team [in league] so far that we feel like that.”

The game was scoreless until the top of the sixth inning when Cerritos senior second baseman Niki Ibarra doubled to left field with one out and went to third on a groundout. Artesia sophomore Shelby Hile then walked sophomore left fielder Lauren Lejano. But on a 1-1 count to sophomore right fielder Alexa Diaz, Cerritos head coach Kim Ensey called for Lejano to steal second in the hopes that Ibarra would score, which she did on an error.

“It was a straight take, but it was just to push a run across,” Ensey said

Defensive woes would allow the Lady Pioneers to claim a 2-1 lead in their half of the frame. Joaquin led off the inning by softly popping up just behind sophomore third baseman Alazea Herrera. Senior first baseman Brenda Duran then singled to the left field gap and both runners advanced on a sacrifice from Luna. On the play though, Joaquin and Duran came around on a costly error.

But Cerritos battled back in the top of the seventh and sent eight batters to the plate. With one out, Hile walked senior center fielder Essence Gibbs and freshman shortstop Jadyn Nielsen reached on a fielder’s choice. A base hit to left from freshman catcher Kaitlin Caneda loaded the bases. Two batters later, junior designated player Elise Gibbs singled to center on the first pitch to make it 3-2.

“In a game like this, a lot of hitters tend to press and try to do too much at the plate instead of just getting good pitches and waiting for their pitch and driving it hard,” Ensey said. “Our girls were able to do that at the end of the game. But I think the excitement of the game early on really took the bats out of their hands a little bit.”

Freshman right fielder Alexis Duenas, the number nine hitter in the Artesia lineup led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a base hit to right field on the second pitch. With two outs, Joaquin and Duran singled, leading up to Luna’s big hit.

“I’ve seen Natalie since she was about eight years old, so it’s really neat to see these girls grow up and just because of the situation; the meaning of the game and what was behind the game, and for her to come up with two outs…I couldn’t have been more excited,” Feenstra said.

“Man, I was frustrated because this team can hit,” Luna said. “The last time, it was a high-scoring game. It is pretty frustrating because I know our players and I know that they are experienced and all this. But I knew we were going to come out because we really wanted this and I believe we wanted it more.”

When Cerritos edged Artesia 7-6 on Mar. 19, the teams had combined for 21 hits and five errors/ There was only one lead change and there was scoring in four of the six and a half innings. The fact that it was scoreless for the first five innings in the rematch was somewhat of a surprise.

“I think both of them had a great game,” Feenstra said of Hile and Cerritos freshman pitcher Erin Gibbs. “I think they both did very well placing the ball. I felt that they held it together in tight situations and both of those girls are fantastic.”

“I think both pitchers pitched really well, and it just was a matter of which team was going to make more adjustments,” Ensey said.

Both teams had their fair share of scoring opportunities in the early innings. But the Lady Dons (9-8, 5-1) left seven on base prior to the sixth inning and Artesia stranded five runners. In addition, junior center fielder Camryn Thompson, Artesia’s leadoff hitter who is a tough out, went hitless with a pair of strikeouts while Cerritos sophomore first baseman Samiya Jones, the team’s cleanup hitter, also went hitless in four at-bats and left five runners on base. Feenstra also credited the intensity for the errors late in the game

“When we play Cerritos, we just physically feel different,” Feenstra said. “We’re a little bit more tense; a little bit more tight, and especially with Cam…I think there’s a little bit more pressure.”

“It’s a team effort and a lot of things had to go into that happening,” Ensey said. “But when you have runners in scoring position, obviously we’re going to do our best to get them in.”

Caneda and Ibarra each had three hits for the Lady Dons, who will host last place John Glenn High today, Pioneer High on Tuesday and Whitney High on Wednesday. Barring any major upsets along the way, Cerritos and Artesia are poised to share the 605 League title.

“I think it’s awesome with us coming from the Suburban League; the two of us and Glenn also,” Ensey said. “But we knew coming over that it was going to be us two. Yeah, we wanted it by ourselves, but it’s pretty appropriate that we get to share it.”

Duran went three for four and Joaquin added a pair of hits in three at-bats for Artesia. The Lady Pioneers, who are just on the outside of cracking the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 top 10 poll, hosted Pioneer on Apr. 11 and will entertain Whitney today before visiting Glenn on Tuesday and Oxford Academy on Thursday to wrap up the regular season. In addition, the 13 victories are the most for any Artesia team in at least 22 seasons. Before this season, the most wins an Artesia squad would collect was 10 (2013, 2017, 2018).

“It’s exciting,” Feenstra said. “This is the first time that we felt confident in ourselves. It didn’t matter who we were playing. It’s really nice to see the program come [around] from when I was playing here.”